13.01.2023 change 13.01.2023

Pottery technology also came to Europe through Siberia and the Caspian Sea region

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Pottery technology came to Europe not only with agriculture from the Middle East, but also from the Far East through Siberia and the Caspian Sea region, say researchers.

The earliest, 20,000-year-old man-made ceramic vessels in the world come from the Far East. Until now, the prevailing view among scientists was that this skill came to Europe only with the advent of agriculture. The impulse came from the Middle East.

Now, a group of researchers argues in a paper in Nature Human Behaviour that the technology of producing ceramic vessels appeared on the north-eastern ends of the European continent earlier, and the idea came from Western Siberia and the region of the Caspian Sea, where the oldest vessels date back to ca. 5 900 BCE. In the northernmost part of Eastern Europe (Pezmog site), the first clay vessels date back to around 5,750 BCE. This does not mean, however, that pottery from those eastern regions appeared first in all of Europe.

Dr. Agnieszka Czekaj-Zastawny from the Institute of Archeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, said: “In Europe, in the Baltic region, where Mesolithic pottery occurs, the origin (of vessels - PAP - Science in Poland) is complex. Its appearance is dated to ca. 4,700 BCE and is believed to be the result of both Early Neolithic and secondary influences from the East.”

Commenting on the new findings, she emphasises that, apart from the north-eastern corners of Europe, Neolithic pottery remains the oldest on this continent. In Central Europe, it appeared with farmers ca. 5,500 BCE, 'the further south of the continent, the earlier’.

A team of scientists, including academics from the University of York and the British Museum in the UK, as well as Polish researchers, analysed the remains of over 1,200 ceramic vessels from 156 sites associated with hunter-gatherer communities in nine countries of northern and eastern Europe.

The authors of the study say that the ability to produce pottery spread from Siberia and the Caspian Sea region to north-eastern Europe quite quickly from about 5,900 BCE. Over just 300-400 years, this skill spread over a distance of 3,000 km, which corresponds to a range of 250 km in the lifetime of one generation. Until now, archaeologists believed that Mesolithic vessels found in Northern Europe were clumsy imitations of vessels fired by farming communities. The rapid spread of pottery was possible not through migrations and population movements, but rather through the exchange of ideas between communities living next to each other.

Dr. Czekaj-Zastawny said that the new analysis covered little-known Mesolithic pottery of hunter-gatherer communities, usually not associated with producing clay vessels, the introduction of which is rather associated with the first farmers.

She added that the researchers used modern, precise lipid (fat) residue analysis of lipids preserved in the walls of vessels, which are the remains of cooked meals. They allowed the scientists to reconstruct the diet of hunter-gatherer communities. The analyses show that meat, fish and vegetable dishes were cooked.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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